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Guiding Farm Families Down the Road of Succession Planning

Busy running a medium-sized milling operation as a family-owned business, Lynn Stieglitz hadn’t given much thought to succession planning. But after attending a regional dairy producers meeting in 2022, a presentation by Purdue Extension - Huntington County Director Edward Farris sparked his interest.

Stieglitz, the second-generation owner of Milan Center Feed and Grain in Northeast Indiana, said that while he didn’t take immediate action after the meeting toward succession planning for his business, he held onto Farris’s contact information and the educational handouts given to attendees. In December, Stieglitz was moving things around in his office when he came across those handouts and took their rediscovery as a sign.

“I believe a lot in providence—nothing happens by chance, so finding those papers told me to send Ed an email."

- Lynn Stieglitz

In evaluations of statewide programming efforts, including Purdue Women in Agriculture, the Purdue University
Intergenerational Farm and Non-Farm Family Business Survey, and the 2023 AgSEED-funded Succession Survey, producers consistently identified succession planning as a top management concern for which they wanted more information.

Over the last four years, the Purdue Succession Planning Team has offered workshops throughout Indiana. In 2020, the team offered six regional workshops, impacting the lives of 72 participants. Virtual three-part programs in 2021 and 2022 saw 32 and 24 participants, respectively.

Jeremy Stieglitz, vice president and operations manager of Milan Center Feed and Grain, said attending one of the workshops with his father was eye-opening, and helped them identify local resources they could access when their family was ready to begin succession planning.

“When it comes to succession planning, knowing where to start is probably the hardest part,” Jeremy Stieglitz said. “Having that extra boost of knowing who is out there to help was a great entry point to lead us into that conversation. We were able to talk to folks, exchange business cards and then start those conversations.

Succession planning isn’t as simple as it seems, he explained, equating it with creating a business plan. It’s a major family conversation with intricate dynamics. Through the Extension workshops, the Stieglitz family was able to access expert consultants who could speak the language of their business, break down legal terms and understand the sensitivity around family conversations.

As the leader of the family business, Lynn Stieglitz hadn’t considered prior to the workshop how his family viewed their milling operation, whether it was the glue that held their family together or a threat to family relationships. Understanding if his heirs could afford to purchase the family business, and if not, how to plan for that, became new considerations in Stieglitz’s long-term planning.

“My father passed away very suddenly a day before he turned 73. He hadn’t been as involved in the day-to-day operations as I had, but it still caught me off guard,” Stieglitz said. “Had we had something like this that initiated these conversations before he passed, it would have helped tremendously. You think you have forever to wait and plan for this, but the reality is you don’t.”

While his family’s succession conversations are ongoing, Stieglitz said the literature given to workshop attendees has helped him continue thinking about how to keep planning moving in the right direction.

When it comes to succession planning, knowing where to start is probably the hardest part. Having that extra boost of knowing who is out there to help was a great entry point to lead us into that conversation.

- Jeremy Stieglitz

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